Over the past few years, a new educational media platform has emerged in the form of applications, or “apps,” for smartphones, video iPods, iPads, and other tablet devices. According to “Zero to Eight: Children’s Media Use in America
,” a new study released by Common Sense Media
, 52% of all children ages 0-8 have access at home to one of the mobile devices listed above. In addition, 29% of parents have downloaded apps specifically for their children.
Schools and teachers are also incorporating these newer mobile devices into the curriculum. In fact, a recent episode of CBS’s “60 Minutes” featured an inspiring segment called Apps for Autism, which shared how special apps on iPads and other tablet computers are helping autistic children and adults make social and academic breakthroughs.
We see young children, even toddlers, reaching for their parents’ smartphones and tablets. We know that these interactive mobile devices have the power to engage young children, but how do we find educational, age-appropriate apps?
Common Sense Media, a nonprofit group based in San Francisco, reviews almost 1,500 apps designed for children and teenagers on their user-friendly website. An educational games category allows parents and teachers to browse through almost 100 apps—each containing a description, overall rating, and age level. Viewers can also sort apps by theme and age, which ranges from 2 to 17. The website provides the same type of reviews for other media sources, including television shows, computer games, websites, and more.
In June, I wrote an article, “Math Anxiety: Conquering Students’ Fear of Math
,” about evidence that math anxiety can reduce math performance. Another brain study by Sian L. Beilock, associate psychology professor at the University of Chicago, and doctoral candidate Ian M. Lyons takes these findings one step further. The study
, published in Cerebral Cortex
, investigated what brain activities allowed some math-anxious individuals to overcome their anxiety while others struggled and performed poorly.
The authors found that math performance faltered most when students were unable to exert cognitive control to subdue their emotional response to the math problem. These apparent math deficits did not necessarily reflect an individual’s ability or skills. Some students who identified themselves as math-anxious were able to suppress anxiety activity in the amygdala, and these subjects performed better on the math tasks. They exhibited more activity in the areas of the brain dedicated to focus and regulating negative emotions. The determining factor in performance had more to do with how a student’s brain responded to anxiety than how much anxiety the math problem initially triggered.
How can we help students reduce their math anxiety?
In a recent New York Times Opinionator article, Michael Bornstein outlines the Positive Coaching Alliance’s “ELM Tree of Mastery.” The tree focuses on ways for children to exert cognitive control over their performance. Conceptualized by Jim Thompson, a teacher, coach, and founder of the Positive Coaching Alliance, it is highly applicable to teaching as well. Students need to realize that they hold control over three ELM factors crucial to success: their level of Effort, Learning from experiences, and how they respond to Mistakes. Additionally, children need positive feedback so that they do not fear mistakes. Positive feedback fills students’ “emotional tank” so that they become less emotionally depleted and experience less anxiety as a result.
This “ELM Tree of Mastery” could help to improve students’ sense of control and cognitive function. If teachers can challenge students to develop the three skills outlined in the tree, the result may be less fear of math and a more can-do attitude in approaching it. Learning to control the negative emotions and thoughts associated with math will improve performance and allow students to reach their true potential.
A few weeks ago, the Obama administration launched Digital Promise, a nonprofit initiative that intends to transform learning and teaching by advancing classroom technologies. According to a September 16, 2011 White House press release, a coalition of leading educators, researchers, technology firms, and entrepreneurs will collaborate at Digital Promise to harness the power of learning technology and “bring all of America’s schools into the 21st century.”
According to the White House press release, Digital Promise intends to tackle three significant challenges in order to advance learning technologies:
- Identifying breakthrough technologies
- Learning faster what’s working and what’s not
- Transforming the market for learning technologies
The Digital Promise website encourages “us”— educators, innovators, researchers, and citizens—to “join the discussion” by sharing our experiences with technology in the classroom and by identifying the challenges we face which learning technologies could potentially solve.
Visit Digital Promise to learn more about the initiative, “join the discussion,” and collaborate with this innovative new center!
Every teacher, whether novice or experienced, is subject to observation by a school administrator. For many teachers, this is a formality; just one of the expected experiences they’ll have during a school year. For others, though, the observation is used the way it is meant to be used – as a professional development tool. Teacher observation is more than a checklist: the purpose is to help teachers improve their performance.
Teacher observations should be one component of a dialogue between a teacher and an administrator. For many, the formal observation follows many brief classroom visits and discussions about the teacher’s strengths, weaknesses, and challenges. Ideally, teacher observations begin with a pre-conference to discuss an upcoming lesson and for the teacher to provide areas in which they could use some support or suggestions. During the observation, the administrator will likely look at several key components such as the classroom environment, student engagement, and a lesson that is curriculum-based. In the post-conference, the teacher and the observer should discuss highlights and challenges of the lesson. After discussing ways to improve instruction, the teacher should reflect and use the ideas from the review to improve practices. This type of professional development is both reflective and collaborative. It requires educators to think about how he or she can improve their practice, but also allows for peer-counseling to uncover and share new ideas.
Teachers are constantly looking for professional development opportunities and suggestions for how they can improve instruction. Yet, many fail to see the potential learning opportunity that evaluations provide. Such a collaborative model does require an administrator and a teacher who share educational goals. But, it’s certainly possible to make a suggestion for a more collaborative process that will improve teaching practices and, thereby, increase student achievement.
This past June, Education Market Research released its third report (the two previous reports were published in 2005 and 2008) about digital trends in math education. In conjunction with MCH Strategic Data, Education Market Research conducted a comprehensive survey of math curriculum supervisors, classroom teachers (grades K-5), math teachers (grades 6-8 and 9-12), and math department chairs (grades 6-8 and 9-12). The report identified what resources math educators rely on most in the classroom, and what new products and tools they’re most interested in purchasing.
While most math classrooms still use a basal textbook, the integration of digital resources is rising. On average, math teachers reported spending more than one full class period per week using digital tools or content, and many spent significantly more time utilizing technology. Specifically, among teachers who report using digital content or tools during more then 26% of class time (high digital use), the highest percentages are remedial math teachers and grades 6-8 math teachers. The most commonly used digital tool is interactive whiteboards. Teachers considered interactive whiteboards to be the most important supplemental material in addition to textbooks. This demand for whiteboards is a change from 2008 when interactive whiteboards were not even part of the survey. Math teachers and educators value the “faster reporting” and “detailed student/class information” generated by computer-based programs, features that traditional textbooks and workbooks cannot provide. Other important features and tools that math educators rate highly are:
Interactive whiteboard resources
- Practice for state and standardized tests
- Meets need of diverse students
- Abundant practice exercises
- Using games to practice basic skills
As digital resources continue to expand and improve, schools will certainly continue to adopt them. What tools do you think are the most important? And what do you think are the greatest needs for technology in math classrooms?
Recently, I have been thinking about how I might support my colleagues with their professional development needs, specifically those involving the integration of technology in the classroom. Although I have researched it a bit over the years, Lesson Study
is not a professional development technique that I have mastered. In the past, I just haven’t had the opportunity to convene a lesson study group. This year, however, I will explore this professional development model with some of my colleagues.
To refresh my memory of the ins-and-outs of Lesson Study, I visited a site authored by a research group at Columbia University Teachers College. It describes Lesson Study as a technique often used by teachers in Japan to develop and refine high-quality lessons. Essentially, teachers work collaboratively to plan a lesson. Then, one of the teachers teaches the lesson while others in the group observe. The group convenes to reflect on the lesson and, many times, it is refined and taught again by a different teacher in the group. This process can go on until the lesson is “perfected”. While the process may seem tedious to some, it helps teachers develop lessons using best practices and uncovers characteristics of a well-planned lesson that can be transferred to other instructional areas. This process helps teachers to plan, collaborate, and reflect as they hone their teaching skills and deliver lessons that will benefit all learners.
For some schools the formal lesson-study process may not be possible, but by learning more about the process and using resources such as the site referenced above, school leaders can develop a plan that works best for their situation. I hope to use the process to help my teachers develop and refine technology-based lessons. I will gladly share my experiences a few months down the road. Feel free to share your experiences, as well!
What is the difference between fewer
What is the difference between amount
What is the difference between zero
Building precision in math language often starts with informal use of terms that involve quantity, number, and comparison. While formal instruction usually renders math concepts in numbers and operations, informal activities and discussion can help young people become more conversant with these ideas. And the more we can talk about math, the less intimidated we are by it.
Simple classroom routines, such as line-ups, clean-ups, and activity-rotations, can be supported with accurate math language. And that can help students build and communicate knowledge about quantity and order.
It all starts with modeling the behavior. Here are some examples:
“If we had fewer students in the reading circle, we would have less discussion.”
“The amount of time we spend practicing math facts will increase the number of students who get good grades.”
“Because of an assembly, zero students are going to the library today. And there is nothing we can do about it.”
Do you need a hint about the differences?
- Fewer refers to countable quantities. Less refers to immeasurable quantities.
- Amount refers to accumulated quantities. Number refers to countable quantities.
- Zero is a number. Nothing is, well, nothing! Nothing refers to absence. Nothing is null. Nothing is a void.
Here is a great online resource that will tell you the difference between anything. Or is that everything?
Have you ever read an article about a topic that is so simple, yet one that you have never thought about before? That happened to me today when I came across an article about lost knowledge. Each year, thousands of experienced educators retire and take with them years of knowledge about best practices in the classroom. Anyone in the profession knows that excellence in teaching comes in part from the day-to-day experiences with students and colleagues. Being familiar with the curriculum and the most current teaching practices is helpful, but it’s knowledge derived from years of problem-solving that build the best teachers.
To preserve experienced teachers’ considerable pedagogical strengths, it is important for schools to develop a system of knowledge transfer. This enables teachers who are on the verge of retiring to pass valuable information on to novice teachers. The article offers some suggestions for professional learning opportunities that will support knowledge maintenance:
- Let novice and experienced teachers work together. Suggested areas of collaboration include activities and intervention strategies.
- Support principals as they facilitate school-based professional learning and coaching. These sessions will allow for consistent, organized discussions where novice and experienced teachers can share teaching strategies.
- Provide extended learning time for teachers, as well as students. Sometimes all it takes is the opportunity for professional discussions. We tend to look for ways to increase student learning time but rarely carve out time for teacher learning.
Each of these suggestions is rooted in the idea of providing time for all teachers to exchange best practices. If a school-wide initiative is not planned, take it upon yourself to have a professional discussion with those teachers who have stood the test of time.
Math teachers are busier than ever. And while it seems that we live and breathe mathematics, it can be difficult to find time to have a subject-matter discussion with our colleagues. Luckily, a National Council of Teachers of Mathematics (NCTM) website includes support tools for those teachers looking for a focused, in-depth math discussion.
NCTM Reflection Guides provide suggested reading lists as well as questions to help guide a group discussion. Ideally, teachers wishing to talk about a selected topic would read one of the suggested articles, then work through all (or some) of the focus questions that correspond to the article. Articles are arranged by grade band (elementary, middle school, high school) and are labeled with the mathematical strand where they most closely fall. Each guide is set up much like a lesson plan and includes a Rationale/Suggestion for Use, Procedures/Discussion Questions, and Connections to Other Resources. Some of the discussion questions are grouped in such a way that a two-day session is preferred. However, the open-ended format of the questions enable discussion facilitators to use the Reflection Guides however they see fit. Guides may also include “Next Steps” which provide teachers with a follow-up question or activity to help keep the exchange of ideas going beyond the initial discussion. The additional resources support teachers who are interested in learning more about a topic or may provide material for a more in-depth group discussion.
With the new emphasis on Professional Learning Communities, as well as teachers’ continuous need for professional development, NCTM’s Reflection Guides fulfill a need for concise, reliable resources. Find a topic that interests you and grab some colleagues to join you in a discussion. It’s likely you’ll learn just as much from your colleagues as you do from any other professional development source. You just have to take the time to open up the lines of communication on a mutually interesting topic.
A report from the NCTM Annual Meeting & Exposition in April by Russell Gersten, COI-Math Director and Director of the Instructional Research Group, highlighted best practices in elementary and middle school math education
. Gersten focuses on a 2009 report from the What Works Clearinghouse on “Assisting Students Struggling with Mathematics: Response to Intervention (RtI) for Elementary and Middle Schools”
. He distills the extensive report and examines each of the panel’s recommendations and their evidence of effectiveness.
For example, Gersten pulls out the key themes from Recommendation 3, “Systematic Instruction,” which has strong evidence of effectiveness. These themes include extensive practice with feedback, allowing students to provide the rationale for their thinking, and modeling approaches to problem solving. Recommendation 2, “Focus instruction on whole number for grades K-5 and rational number for grades 4-8,” on the other hand, has minimal evidence of effectiveness. But Gersten compiles advice from mathematicians, professional organizations, and research panels on what to teach in Tier 2 and 3 interventions. Specifically, he points out that whole number work should link operations to number properties through the use of procedures, concepts, and word problems.
For several of the recommendations, Gersten also provides examples, such as different types of word problems and how to present them in a visual manner. Another focal point is the move from concrete to visual representations (Recommendation 5) as students’ understanding becomes more abstract. This use of manipulatives and visual representations is particularly important in teaching the concept of fractions.
Gersten’s presentation provides a strong overview of mathematics intervention strategies and points out how relatively little research has been done about mathematics disabilities and intervention. By taking a close look at the IES What Works Clearinghouse Report, he draws attention to one of the best available resources for math intervention. Check out the report itself for more recommendations on how to employ the strategies they outline as well as roadblocks teachers might encounter and how to overcome them.